Tonight is our fifth of six Monday night prayer meetings in which we're asking God to lead us clearly into next year.
I believe a change is coming, and has already come (I'll say more later), that will affect the larger church. And because of that, we need to decide how we'll respond as a congregation in 2021. So the overseers called us to a season of prayer about it, and that's what we've been doing since October.
Tonight let's pray a Christmas prayer together. 7pm at church or online.
Our last prayer meeting was the Monday before Thanksgiving, if you can believe it. In that week's teaching I called us to give thanks even for the hard things in life, so we did that.
We started by giving thanks for the blessings that are easy to recognize. As we prayed I was moved by the Spirit to read the names of all the people we've baptized in my eleven years here. Can you believe it's 101? We thanked God. He's so good.
Then we spent time giving thanks for the blessings that are harder to recognize, like disappointments and sorrows. And as we prayed I was moved to read the names of all the people we've laid to rest. Can you believe we have said final goodbyes to 169 people? As hard as that is, we thanked God for our time with them, and his grace toward them. He's so good.
Then, with thanksgiving in our hearts, we spent time with these prayer starters from the prior meeting:
And then we concluded our time prayerfully reflecting on the questions we've asked ourselves at each of our prayer meetings:
Tonight we will spend time praying for God to restore to us the joy of our salvation.
Yesterday, I taught a difficult truth (here's the 20 minute explanation), that anyone who is unwilling to let contrition do its work will never fully experience joy — the joy of salvation.
Regret and remorse are natural. When we do bad things we feel bad. We should. Contrition serves its purpose by causing us to call out to God for mercy. It's there that we fully appreciate his forgiveness. Contrition is not about beating ourselves up over past sins, it's about feeling broken where we've shown that we are in fact broken, so that we can find healing.
Humanism comes in many forms. It often teaches that contrition is bad. And that really shows its head at Christmas when many look to have their "faith in humanity restored." What we really need is to have our "faith in humanity exposed." What we really need is faith in a God who is eager to redeem a fallen humanity!
As I said yesterday, one of the most popular "gospels" is that we are all basically good people with a God spark in us that Jesus came to fan into flame. That sort of thinking leads us to devote ourselves to ourselves with a goal of self-improvement and self-actualization. it's a false gospel with a false devotion.
The true gospel is devotion to God with a goal of glorifying him. And it begins with a brokenness about our sin. It doesn't stay there because it does receive forgiveness. But if it doesn't start there it doesn't receive forgiveness.
It's counter-intuitive that the gateway to joy is contrition. But what's become intuitive to so many of us doesn't work. And we have depression and anxiety to show for it.
Let's learn to prayerfully embrace contrition as a good path that leads to joy.
Tonight we'll gather for prayer at 7pm in the auditorium or online.
We'll spend the first part of our time in personal reflection, allowing contrition to do its work as we pray to God: "Restore to us the joy of your salvation and grant us a willing spirit to sustain us."
Then, as we've been doing, we'll pray through the emphases of the first four nights and conclude at 8pm.
Finally, mark your calendar for the last Monday in 2020 (December 28th) so we can all spend time praying together, hearing how God has been leading our prayers of discernment.
See you tonight.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.